Greeting movie fans and a REAL official welcome to 2015 and Year 2 of OneFilmFan.com! Not wanting to see the momentum and posts slow down, what better way to begin a new 12 months than with my first interview! This time out, I feature a very accomplished actress, who in addition to a wealth of talent and experience on screen, she is also an accomplished writer as well! AND she just happened to ALSO be in the same film as my next most recent interviewee, Clayne Crawford! And so the new year takes off running with…..Laura Cayouette.
One Film Fan: The story so far, how were you first drawn to the acting profession? When did it become evident that acting was going to be your career choice?
Laura Cayouette: Most people know they want to act when they are quite young but I was 25 when I decided to study acting in New York and I didn’t start making a living as an actor until I was about 30. Less than 1% of people in our union make enough to live and there are fewer roles for women, especially women over 30, but acting was a calling for me so I feel like the career chose me more than I chose it.
O.F.F.: How did you further learn the art (ie: mentors, influences, schooling)?
L.C.: I started training at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts (AADA) in New York. It’s theatre training – the Method, Alexander Technique (bodywork), speech and the elements of sound in language…head-to-toe training. Jackie Bartone was probably my most influential teacher there but I also learned from fellow student Jernard Burks (“The Hangover“, “Four Brothers“). I studied with the Roundabout Conservatory and did theatre before moving to Los Angeles in 1992. There, I studied with Milton Katselas at the Beverly Hills Playhouse and several other teachers before finding Ivana Chubbuck. Between the classes and her private coaching, I owe her a lot for the actor she made of me and for the jobs she helped me find the confidence to get. But, my biggest influences have been the people I’ve worked with like Shirley MacLaine, Quentin Tarantino, Richard Dreyfuss, Kevin Costner, Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Stiller, Jon Favreau, Hayden Christensen and so many more. I am lucky enough to count Tarantino, Dreyfuss and Costner as mentors as well.
O.F.F.: When preparing for a role, do you always have the same routines/methods to get into a character or does that vary depending ON the role? Additionally, how much research do you tend to do FOR a character?
L.C.: The honest answer is that it depends on how much time I have. For “Django Unchained“, I had most a year. The part was written with me in mind, but I still went through the audition process. Even so, I knew I had the part months in advance so I was able to do extensive prep work. I created a journal for Lara Lee complete with aged photos of the actors and the sets. I had files of hairstyles and clothing from the era and researched everyday life in the years leading up to the Civil War. I developed a backstory about her dead husband from how they met to how he died and the scandal her brother saved her from by taking her back in at Candyland. I had an iShuffle full of songs from the era and even worked on a fan trick for months – though it didn’t make the final cut. Dana Gourrier and I borrowed underskirts from wardrobe and practiced walking side-by-side with her holding a parasol over me. I have no idea what people must have thought of me walking around in a Saints shirt with a hoop skirt, but I knew Lara Lee inside and out by the time we began filming. At the other extreme, I just shot a movie all November then had only two days to prep before my next movie in December. While I was shooting that film, I got my first TV movie which shot at the same time so I had almost no time to even memorize the lines, much less work on the character. I stuck to doing simple breakdowns of all the scenes and looking for opportunities to enrich her as something more than a “type.”
O.F.F.: What have the experiences been like in TV roles vs. film roles? Similar? Completely different?
L.C.: Generally speaking, I get to play bigger roles on television. TV tends to write more and better roles for women my age and my film career has enhanced my ability to play interesting characters on TV. In film, I tend to play small parts in bigger movies and bigger parts in small movies. But, the biggest difference is that TV moves fast. From casting to shooting to waiting to see it air – all of it goes faster in TV.
O.F.F.: You’ve had the opportunity to act alongside fellow actors like Will Smith, Kevin Costner, Ryan Reynolds, and Leonardo DiCaprio among so many others, as you stated previously. Can you tell us more about how those experiences helped you grow as an actress?
L.C.: I’ve learned so much from so many. Shirley MacLaine showed me how to steal a scene without even ONE line of dialogue, which I wrote about in (her book) “Know Small Parts”. If my first movie hadn’t been with her, I don’t think I’d have the career I’ve had. Experiencing Leonardo DiCaprio’s raw passion inspired me to dig deeper, give more. And seeing the surgical precision of Christoph Waltz inspired me to consider the camera more. I learned to introduce myself to any background person I work with in a scene from watching Lauren Holly do it. From Quentin, I’ve learned everything from the value of loyalty to how much of the attitude of the cast and crew comes from the director’s attitude. From Michael Madsen, I’ve learned the value of standing your ground. Both Quentin and David Carradine gave me a new perspective on my career. And Richard Dreyfuss taught me to be careful what I wish for when it comes to fame and to “Make it so they can’t sleep at night thinking of ways to put you in their movie.” The list goes on. I’ve been very blessed to work alongside some of the most talented actors of our time. Even the not-so-great actors and directors have their lessons to teach. The work ethic is usually pretty high on a set so there are lessons all around if you pay attention – and I have.
O.F.F.: So, onto your current project, “Convergence”, about to hit the film festival circuit……What drew you to this film?
L.C.: It wasn’t your “typical” audition right from the start. First of all, the role was described as a “church lady.” I couldn’t help but picture Dana Carvey and all my MawMaw’s friends. At the callback, I was handed a multi-page manifesto I was told I needed to read before meeting the director. It was all about spirituality, but it wasn’t preaching so much as introducing and discussing concepts. I was kind of fascinated that the director had written a manifesto and even more stunned he wanted to share it with us before meeting us. So the answer is that what “drew” me was Drew Hall.
O.F.F.: Tell us about the character, Esther, you play in it. (spoiler-free if possible! lol)
L.C.: She’s nurturing and protective, haunted by her own journey but fairly fearless. I also wanted her to be a bit funny, so at the risk of sounding in anyway self-reflective, she’s kind of adorable at times.
O.F.F.: As you allude to above, there’s a strong underlying theme of grace and faith in the story…how did that (or DID it) affect you in any way while filming?
L.C.: Some of my favorite moments of downtime were spent talking with Drew about something we called the “whoosh.” Without getting into it, we were interested in the effects on the human body when it experiences something spiritual – how the mind can’t go back from that experience.
L.C.: I loved working with all of them but my most fun moment was with Clayne. We were shooting a scene with a prop. I don’t want to spoil anything, but the prop guy tried to do the gag several times and failed. I tried once and got the job done. I was so delighted and proud, a lot of my smiling reaction is real. Clayne’s face was priceless.
O.F.F.: What other projects are on the horizon for you currently?
L.C.: I’m looking forward to the releases of “The Loft” with James Marsden and Karl Urban, “Maggie” with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Abigail Breslin, “American Heist” with Hayden Christensen, “Dark Places” with Charlize Theron, “Student Bodies” with Tom Arnold, and, of course, “Convergence”. The movies I just completed were “Heartland” (though expect a name change) with John Schneider, “Cold Moon” with Christopher Lloyd, and “Lost Island” with Jason London.
O.F.F.: I can only guess you feel a true sense of accomplishment when completing a film/TV role, but does it ever just feel like your job at times and that’s it? Do you consider how a particular film (or films/shows) might impact (or DO impact) those that watch it/them? Does that reaction (or lack of reaction), whether from critics or fans, affect you in one form or another?
L.C.: That’s really three questions – at least two with a follow-up. It’s less of a job than a career. Most jobs don’t consist mainly of going on job interviews all year in hopes of working a few months or weeks or days a year. My main job is preparing for roles I’ll never play then trying to forget about them so I can stomach not getting the call. But, I love what I do and I weather those rejections because nothing else feels like being on a set, bringing a character to life and knowing it will entertain people, make them feel things and think things. I do have some films I choose not to participate in and though I’ve done over sixty commercials, I’ve turned down any product I found personally unendorsable. I’ve tried to be considerate of the fact that everyone from people like my dad to my nieces and nephews can see my work but I care more about how I feel about a role than how others may perceive it.
O.F.F.: Beyond acting, I understand you actually have a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing and Literature and, at one time, taught. Do you ever have the opportunities to continue to flex your writing skills or have any future plans to do so?
L.C.: My first book was “Know Small Parts: An Actor’s Guide To Turning Minutes Into Moments and Moments Into A Career” with foreword by Richard Dreyfuss and endorsements from Costner, Lou Diamond Phillips and a dozen other industry luminaries. One of my favorite things about the book is that it affords me the opportunity to speak at universities and acting classes. I even returned to AADA. It felt amazing to sit facing all those people starting-out knowing that I was the proof their dreams and goals aren’t necessarily “crazy.” I recently was honored with the Distinguished Alumni Award at the University of South Alabama where I earned my M.A. One of the reasons I decided to get my master’s in creative writing and English literature was to become a good enough author to take on my first novel, “Lemonade Farm“. I’ve had a big adventure as an actor while on my journey to finally publishing “Lemonade Farm” last month. The goals I’ve met on the way to this one were, frankly, much bigger and more flashy than finishing a book. But, being an author was my first and biggest dream for myself so I’m thrilled I finally got it out in time to give copies to my friends and family for Christmas.
During my 18 years in L.A., I wrote screenplays – at least a dozen. There were a few that almost got made over and over but nothing ever made it to the big screen. I did direct a couple shorts I’d written. I did the festival circuit with “Intermission“, a short starring Danica McKellar, Joanna Cassidy, and Julie Brown which won a couple of awards back in 2004. You can see it and the 8 minutes I shot from a feature script called “Lone Star Trixie” on my website (lauracayouette.com). That piece stars Richard Dreyfuss and Mircea Monroe. I wrote the lead role with Sandra Bullock in mind, but I play the part in the short. When I moved to New Orleans in 2009, I kind of let go of my screenplays. Or, more specifically, I let go of hustling to get them made. I produced a biker movie with Quentin Tarantino in 2008 and I could see producing here, but I stopped writing screenplays to make way for the books.
I have another acting book in mind, but New Orleans made me a blogger and that’s the writing I do most often. “LA to NOLA” (latonola.com) has become basically a 5 year love letter about this city’s culture, cuisine, concerts and parades. For the last crazy-busy few months, I’ve only been able to write sporadically and I haven’t been able to attend many events to write about, but I plan to get back to it soon with my Favorite Things list for 2014, a post looking back on my first five years living in New Orleans and another on the local film community.
O.F.F.: What advice would you give to someone looking to get into the film industry in general?
L.C.: Start working locally. Don’t feel you have to move to L.A. to find work in this industry. Whether you need to break into a union or build your résumé, it’s usually easier to start out in a local market. I became union-eligible in Maryland and I waited until I had proof people would pay me to do this job before I tried getting work in Los Angeles. Dare to fail. This is your one and only life, not the dress rehearsal so if you feel like you will regret not trying, then try it. The only real failure people tend to regret is failing to try. Even if you “make it” in this industry, you will do it by being rejected over and over – by failing to get the job over and over. You have to look at failure differently, rejection too. I write about it in “Know Small Parts” because it’s such a huge part of choosing this as a career.
O.F.F.: Ok, as readers know, I always end with this one…What is YOUR favorite film of all time? Why?
L.C.: “Gone With The Wind“. You have to see it on the big screen to really be able to say you’ve seen it or it can come off as an over-played soap opera. Scarlett O’Hara is one of the best roles ever written for a women. We watch her grow from a spoiled ninny to a strong survivor. Before the intermission she says, “If I have to lie, cheat, steal or kill. As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again.” Then we come back from intermission and watch her lie, cheat, steal and kill. And we love it! “Kill Bill” has the same sort of strong female anti-hero. I guess I’ve always secretly wanted to somehow be Scarlett in a movie and it’s fitting that Quentin was the one who finally put me in a hoop skirt.
So there it is….honestly, one amazingly accomplished (and BUSY! WOW!) actress AND writer! It has always been the joy in getting the opportunity to do these interviews to see the true vastness of ability, drive, perseverance, and yet down-to-earth attitudes these professionals have and the chance to share in that is quite awesome. If you want to know more about Laura Cayouette, please visit her via the following media sites:
A special thanks to “Convergence” director Drew Hill for being the catalyst in making this interview happen! Hope everyone enjoys the read and until next time, THANK YOU for reading!